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Friday, 12 July, 2002, 16:52 GMT 17:52 UK
Gujarat festival passes off peacefully
Police in Ahmedabad
There was a heavy police presence for the procession
A big Hindu festival in the western Indian state of Gujarat has passed off peacefully - despite fears that it might trigger a resurgence of the religious violence that erupted earlier this year.

There were no reports of clashes during the annual Jagannath Yatra.


All the hard work has paid off

Senior police officer Satish Sharma
But police in the commercial capital of Ahmedabad said they had recovered a large cache of weapons on the route of the procession, including rocket launchers and hand grenades.

There were no other details of the haul.

Thousands of troops and police had taken up positions along the route in case of trouble.

The procession involved brightly-painted elephants followed by hundreds of devotees dancing to pounding drums and chanting "Hail Lord Krishna".

During violence in Gujarat in February and March, at least 1,000 people died.

Muslim fears

Local Hindu officials said they had scaled down the march into order to avoid tensions with the city's Muslim community.

However, the procession did pass through some Muslim areas, but most of the inhabitants were reported to have left their homes for relief camps, fearing violence.

Muslim shopkeepers battle a fire in their shops in Chotta Udaipur after mobs set them ablaze in early July
Violence has continued since February's pogroms
Some said they would not stay as they had no faith in the local police's ability to prevent trouble, which has continued sporadically in the state since February.

An earlier rally planned by Gujarat's governing Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party was called off in early July.

India's National Human Rights Commission had voiced fears that it might revive violence between Hindus and Muslims.

March reduced

The Jagannath Rath Yatra is an annual religious ritual in which a chariot is drawn for 14km (eight miles) through the streets of Ahmedabad.

2002 Rath Yatra in Ahmedabad
The parade has been scaled down this year
A local Hindu official said the march was more modest than in previous years, in an effort to avoid tension.

Mahendra Jha, co-ordinator of the Jagannath Temple, said that only 35 trucks, instead of the usual 125, were participating in the procession.

Only 15 Hindu sects, instead of the 31 seen in previous years, were taking part, he said.

However, the number of elephants in the march remained unchanged at 15.

Complicity charge

Official estimates said that some 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, died in retaliatory violence this year in Gujarat after a train carrying Hindu activists was set on fire in February, killing more than 60 people.

Independent estimates have put the death toll in the rioting as high as 2,000.

Many Muslim homes were destroyed and residents forced to seek shelter in refugee camps.

Rights groups blamed the state government of complicity in the violence but the state's chief minister, Narendra Modi, has held on to his post despite the criticism.

Senior Hindu and Muslim leaders are due to meet in Delhi on Monday under the aegis of the National Commission for Minorities to discuss the violence.

Gujarat conflict in-depth

Key vote

Tense state

Background

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26 Jun 02 | South Asia
30 Apr 02 | South Asia
28 Feb 02 | South Asia
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